The Quran speaks of two great worlds: the unseen and the visible (Q, 59:22); the world of matter and the world of spirit. We often refer to them as things visible and invisible – putting are sight as the main criterion for differentiating between the two great worlds. Yet, this is far from the truth. Indeed, the world of matter is all things made known to us by all our senses – the air we breathe, the sounds we hear, the things we touch, the food we taste; by the world of spirit we mean all those things our bodily senses cannot sense, perceive, feel, or make known to us.
Just as senses put us into connection with the material world, so to does our Faith put us into connection with the spiritual world. Faith is to the spiritual world what sense perception is to the material. Thus, Faith is often called the eye of the soul. But this is only partially true: Faith is not only the eye by which the soul can see, it is also the ear by which it can hear, the hand by which it can touch, the nose by which it can smell and the tongue by which it can taste that which the body cannot. Our senses realise the world of matter by making it real, substantial and evident. The work of Faith is to realise the world of spirit; to make it real, substantial and evident. This work of Faith is plainly described in the words, “This is the Book, wherein is no doubt; a guide to the God-fearing, who have Faith in the Unseen” (Q, 2:2-3). Its task is to draw us out of the physical and material and place us before the presence of the unseen, invisible and spiritual.
The golden age of Islam, insofar as the intensity of the religious and spiritual life and the realization of its ideals are concerned, must be identified with the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad- Allah bless him and give him peace- and the first Muslim community at Medina. But just as the seed sown in the ground grows into a tree and finally bears fruit only after the passage of time and the gaining of nourishment from a suitable soil, so did the tree of Islamic civilization bear its intellectual and artistic fruits several centuries after its inception, during which it was nourished by the legacy of the previous civilizations to which Islam became the heir. The arts and sciences, as well as philosophy and metaphysics, reached their zenith of formal perfection and became fully articulated only after Muslim society had become completely consolidated, and only after the tenets of the Islamic revelation had been realized in concrete and tangible forms so as to make the new civilization distinctly Islamic, even when elements of non-Islamic origin had been incorporated into it.
‘There will thus remain only one feasible option for broadening one’s horizons and mind, and becoming more objective and tolerant. It is this: that people should put down their mobile phones, and turn off the net and the TV, and spend at least an hour every day in silent, solitary, and systematic reading. Reading—that which is worth reading, of course—takes people out of the confines of their natural myopia and parochialism and enriches them immeasurably. It can transport people to past times, distant places, wondrous experiences and unexpected emotions. It can stimulate the imagination, sharpen the mind, strengthen the memory, induce contemplation and inculcate noble sympathies. It allows people to sit and listen to the most brilliant minds, teachers, ideas and speeches that have ever existed, no matter what languages they—or we—actually spoke or speak. It can take people to necessary escapes, relaxing fantasies, to imaginary worlds or, by contrast bring them face-to-face with bitter truth and make them mindful of the inexorable, eternal present moment. In short, it can teach people priceless knowledge about themselves, about the world and about reality itself.